Chain Reactions and Vicious Cycles

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

August 22nd, 2009 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

When people do not live with chronic pain or other forms of chronic illness, I think it’s hard for them to understand the chain reaction of events, vicious cycles, and resulting complications that can stem from one little incident.  In turn, they may see our resulting distress as the manifestation of a character defect, unable to recognize what may in fact be a heroic effort to transcend a convoluted mess and live a vibrant life despite it.

In order to heal through natural means, we need maximum alignment and harmony in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states — which are influenced by everyting in our lives, from financial stability to social support to accessibility of venues. When one state of being is undermined or out of balance, all of the others are impacted as well, feeding a vicious cycle that somehow we have to overcome, despite our wellness being compromised.

One single incident can have a domino-like effect that throws not only one of our states, but each of them, into chaos. Add to that a laundry list of pre-existing conditions with their own train-wreck of chaos in our lives and, well, the energy it takes to heal can itself tap our resources and cause a chain reaction of challenges and struggles. 

Take just one example from my life: Two years ago, I went to the pool at my gym, ironically as a proactive measure to take care of my wrists.  I was swimming around in circles in my lane, for five or ten minutes, when suddenly, a man was swimming head-on towards me, about to collide.

Apparently, it had been too much of an effort to him to wait, oh, 30 seconds for me to reach the end of the lane — where he could have informed me that the other person had left, ask if I would like to split the lane, and come to an agreement about who would get which side of it. Instead he just headed straight at me.

Instinctively, I threw my feet down and flung my hands in front of my face, protecting my head. The man slammed into both my hands, causing this complex chain reaction of events and vicious cycles, which two years later still impact my life:


1.  I was in acute pain after the incident and had to stop my workout, which compromised my health and wellness routine for that day.

2.  I was unable to swim or bike for months after the incident, further compromising my health and wellness routine — especially considering that I lived with ankle and knee pain, which made it difficult to do lower body activities.

3.  These additional restrictions on my movement in effect compromised my pain- and weight-management routines, emotional health, and state of mind – which in turn tapped the already-limited energetic reserves (given my pre-existing chronic pain and its own chain reaction in my life) that I had available for dealing with the fallout of this incident.

4.  For months or years following the incident (depending on the activity), it was challenging or impossible for me to do basic activities like opening a door, lifting a mug of coffee, cooking, taking out the trash, pushing a shopping cart, and so on.

This reality had its own set of financial and emotional consequences. Among other things, I had to hire regular help in order to be able to function. This additional cost came at a time that my income also was compromised. 

The less money I had, the less I could afford to get bodywork I needed, purchase items that made it easier to function with pain, or do activities that increased the joy in my life — like going to events where I could meet people or buying nice clothes, so that I could look my best when meeting those people. These additional restrictions in turn impacted my self-esteem, my sense of community, the amount of people I could turn to for support, and ultimately, my very personality (given the constant state of distress and emotional drainage).

5.  It became impossible for me to type, for years following the incident, which had its own chain reaction of financial and emotional consequences.


1.  During the time of acute pain following the incident, I had to put aside 20 minutes several times a day over the next few days, to ice my wrists.

2.  I had to spend the bulk of my time over the next couple of weeks trying to figure out how to use the voice-activated software for my Macintosh. As someone who is not tech-oriented, and given that my financial survival was dependent on my ability to create a viable voice-activated option, this procedure created much stress in my life, with its own set of consequences for my well-being.

3.  After realizing that the voice-activated software on Macintosh was useless, I had to spend a good chunk of the next three months trying to find PC solutions, bouncing from retailer to retailer, computer to computer, and software to software. Again, this reality left me fielding a tremendous sense of anxiety and distress.

4.  I had to spend weeks looking for an effective and safe wrist therapist — taking the time to interview people and try them out. One of the therapists ended up emotionally hurting me, leaving me severely depressed – with its own chain reaction of consequence in my life.

5.  Once I found therapy that worked for me, I had to spend up to eight hours a week traveling to and from the appointments and getting treatment.

6.  I had to spend a couple of weeks interviewing people to do all my typing on a regular basis. Hiring a typist in turn had financial consequences, with its own chain reaction.

7.  I had to spend a significant amount of time pursuing compensation from the gym’s insurance policy.  Given the antagonism I had experienced from attempts to collect compensation following previous incidents in my life, and given the initial antagonism I initially experienced from this insurance company, the time I spent pursuing compensation was highly distressing — with its own chain reaction of consequence on my health and wellness.

8.  After 20 years as a Mac person, I had to switch to PC — taking the time to learn a whole different language.  The process slowed me down, was frustrating, and amped up my anxiety about being able to function.


1.  I was on deadline for a few articles at the time of the incident. I had to call my editors and inform them I would need to turn in my articles a day or two late, giving me time to find someone to do my typing on an emergency basis. One of the editors, at a periodical for which I had done several articles that paid well, did not take kindly to the news. He never wanted to work with me again. That response caused not only financial but also emotional distress, which again had its own chain reaction of impact on my life.

2.  A few weeks after the injury, I was fired from my regular gig as the freelance writing guide at a prestigious media outlet, leaving me both very upset and without a regular paycheck.

3.  Being unable to type for several months, without a viable voice-activated software option, seriously compromised my ability to work and generate income as a writer.  In addition, even once my voice-activated software worked, it did not work for interviews (it only gets trained for one voice at a time).  In addition, it made so many mistakes that it took about three or four times as long to write something with voice-activated software as to type it — thus slowing me down in my ability to work and compromising my ability to take on assignments.

4.  I had to pay for a digital recorder (with enough memory capacity and the ability to download files onto a PC) and the supporting equipment enabling me to record phone conversations.

5.  I had to shell out about $3,000 to get a computer properly equipped to handle the memory capacity demanded by the voice-activated software that worked. This amount came at a time that my ability to generate income was severely compromised.


1.  Once I got my voice-activated software up and running, I found it difficult to do my writing at cafés.  For starters, those that were laptop-friendly also tended to be quiet, and the looks I got when speaking (to my computer) made me very uncomfortable working in those environments.  In addition, I felt uncomfortable with everyone around me hearing what I was writing as I was writing it. 

Being that my excursion to cafés were often my only source of social contact (given that, living with chronic pain, I had limited energy and struggled to balance my basic need in life), I ended up even more isolated than before — leading to emotional consequences that in turn impacted my overall health and wellness and sense of empowerment in responding to my condition. 

2.  The PC world does not have the same free tech support services — i.e., complimentary consultations – that the MacWorld offers. I could not afford to hire someone to help me with every problem I had with the PC, leaving me frustrated and overwhelmed — especially as I learned my way around a PC.

3.  I was in distress because yet again someone had injured me, moreover, specifically when I was making a concerted effort to take care of myself.

4.  I felt a sense of despair and powerlessness. It seemed that no matter how well I took care of myself, and in fact, while I was taking care of myself, I ended up injured – throwing me back into the pit from which I just had managed to crawl out.

5.  I felt afraid: Being that previous injuries had lasted months or years, with their own chain reaction of negative events in my life, I felt uncertain and apprehensive about how this injury might impact me.

6.  Given the shame and blame I already had encountered from doctors and bodyworkers, I cringed at the thought of having to say what had happened, as part of seeking treatment for it.

7.  I felt anxious about the physical impact of seeking treatment for the injury.  Doing so would put me back in the hands of doctors and bodyworkers.  Being that previous medical treatments not only had been ineffective but also had further injured me, the thought of being thrown back in the hands of the healthcare frightened me.

8.  The incident was just one more entry on my laundry list of injuries, in turn making me vulnerable to people’s judgments and ridicule. I would have to deal with the fallout of the incident, for example, be unable to do normal behaviors like open doors and shake hands, but it would feel unsafe afraid to communicate about it.

9.  I had to direct my limited energy reserves and time to overcoming the emotional trauma of the event.

10.  The incident further compromised my feeling of safety and trust in the world – with its own heavy impact on my health and wellness.

I suspect that part of the inclination to blame the victim is not wanting to deal with how overwhelming it is to truly listen to and assist a person dealing with the tremendous complications involved in responding to what has happened. It’s easier to shrug off the person as being “difficult” or to decide that she is attracting the incident to herself, for some grand spiritual purpose.

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